DeFede

Officer of the Year

Although investigators say they believe the victim, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office has decided not to file criminal charges against North Miami Police Det. Fred St. Amand for allegedly exposing himself and masturbating, on three separate occasions, in front of a female co-worker. The State Attorney's investigation, which was released last week, confirmed information previously reported in this column, including the fact that prosecutors retrieved a semen-stained carpet sample from the room inside the police station where the incidents took place. Prosecutors were unable to determine if the semen came from St. Amand because the detective refused to provide a blood or saliva sample for DNA comparison.

With no DNA match and no independent witnesses to the encounters, prosecutors argued, proving a case before a judge or jury would have been extremely difficult. That inability to proceed with criminal charges, however, did not stop the State Attorney's Office from sharply criticizing St. Amand, labeling him a threat to the safety of women around him.

In addition to the testimony of the victim, who works as a code enforcement officer with the City of North Miami, investigators considered statements from four other women who claim they were sexually harassed by St. Amand. According to a memorandum closing the investigation, one of the women told prosecutors that St. Amand would walk around the office grabbing his crotch and commenting that "he had a big, black dick" and announcing to anyone within earshot: "You want it, suck it."

"The testimony of the four females, combined with the [original victim's] testimony, indicates that [St. Amand] has a serious problem and should not be working alone with female [crime] victims and co-workers," Assistant State Attorney Ruth Solley wrote in the close-out memo. "Two of the women have indicated that they are afraid of him."

Although the State Attorney's Office did not call on the City of North Miami to terminate St. Amand, Solley's recommendations in the close-out memo, endorsed by her superiors, left little doubt that prosecutors believe he should not continue to work as a police officer. After all, how can he perform his duties as a police officer if he can't be trusted to be alone with women?

"All five women were unrelated to each other and gave independent descriptions of inappropriate sexual conduct," wrote Solley. "Although there is insufficient evidence to charge the misdemeanor [exposure of sexual organs], action should be taken administratively to ensure the safety of any females who come into contact with the subject in connection with his duties."

Allow me to interpret and extrapolate: The guy is such a threat to women's safety he should be fired.

The 28-year-old St. Amand, once considered a hero cop who had been named Officer of the Year by his department this past January, is now on administrative leave with pay. Before being placed on leave, he'd been assigned to a squad that investigates domestic-violence complaints and sexual assaults. (Neither St. Amand nor his attorney returned phone calls seeking their comments for this story.)

A second criminal investigation against St. Amand is now under way. The State Attorney's Office is scrutinizing allegations of official misconduct and filing false police reports in connection with at least four domestic-violence complaints he investigated. According to documents obtained by New Times, in those four cases St. Amand never contacted the victims, and in three of the cases he closed his investigation into their complaints by filing a report stating that the victims had been instructed about how to obtain a restraining order or seek counseling. The impression left by St. Amand in these "supplemental" reports was that he had personally contacted the victims, as he was supposed to do. In fact in each of these cases he did no such thing.

These allegations against St. Amand first surfaced in May 1998, when a supervisor in the domestic-violence unit conducted a survey of victims to gauge the rate of recurring violence and to see if the battered women were satisfied with the detectives who investigated their cases. On May 26, 1998, the supervisor, Sgt. Joseph LaPorte, in a memo to the unit's commander, Nancy McCue, revealed the results of his survey. He noted that there were no complaints regarding cases assigned to other members of the domestic-violence unit, but that in some of the cases assigned to St. Amand, the victims were still waiting to be contacted.

In one instance, a 31-year-old woman called police on April 7, 1998, after her former boyfriend allegedly assaulted her. The woman told officers she arrived home to find her ex-boyfriend outside her house. She had two of her children with her, boys ages three and five. After she stepped out of her car, the former boyfriend began yelling at her. "He came up to her, snatched her purse from her, and struck her on the back of her head with his fist," the initial police report states. "Fearing he would beat her, she pleaded with him to calm down and come inside." The woman said she left her children in the car while she went in the house with him. "He came through the front door with her and began beating and slapping her, ripping off her shirt and throwing her to the floor," the report continues. "He then splashed beer in her face from a bottle he was holding. Then he threw the bottle at her face, missing by inches. It hit the wall and shattered."

He took her cell phone and the "caller ID" unit attached to the phone inside her house, and then left. "She fears he may become more violent," the police report concludes, "as she states he has pointed a gun to her head on several occasions."

On April 8, 1998, the day after the episode, the initial police report was forwarded to St. Amand, and it became his responsibility to investigate. Despite the violent nature of the incident, St. Amand never contacted the woman.

Six weeks later, on May 19, 1998, the victim received a call from Sergeant LaPorte asking if she was satisfied with the way her case was handled. She said she was still waiting to hear from a detective.

In another case a 22-year-old woman contacted police on May 2, 1998, after an ex-boyfriend threatened to kill her. According to the initial police report, the woman said the former boyfriend told her he had a gun and would shoot her. When she tried to run away, the suspect chased her, according to the report, grabbing her arm and telling her that if she didn't get back together with him he would burn down her house. He then ran off and the woman called police. A patrol car arrived a little before midnight, and the woman described what had occurred, providing police with the name, address, and telephone number of her ex-boyfriend. The officer who took the initial report told the woman she should seek a restraining order.

On May 4, 1998, the case was assigned to St. Amand. The next day he concluded his investigation by filing a "supplemental report" that states: "Victim was given D/V [domestic violence] form and referred to the courts for an injunction. No visible signs of injury or witnesses."

A person reading this report could easily conclude that it was St. Amand who provided the victim with the information, and St. Amand who independently confirmed there were no witnesses or visible signs of injury. But in truth St. Amand never contacted the victim.

In a third instance a 33-year-old woman complained on February 25, 1998, that her former boyfriend attempted to rape her. The ex-boyfriend grabbed the woman, placed a piece of duct tape over her mouth, "and told her she was going to have to be quiet." She eventually persuaded him to remove the tape, according to the initial police report. The former boyfriend then tried to handcuff her, but once again she was able to talk him out of it. Luckily for the woman, her phone rang just then and her ex-boyfriend allowed her to answer it. On the line was her current boyfriend, the report states. The woman was able to convince her attacker that he should leave because police were on the way.

The case was assigned to St. Amand the same day as the alleged attack. The next day he again filed a supplemental report closing the case and stating, "Victim was given D/V form and referred to the courts. No signs of injury or witnesses."

The woman says St. Amand never spoke to her. She even told Sergeant LaPorte she left several messages for St. Amand because she wanted to speak with him, but he never returned her calls.

The North Miami Police Department's response to these troubling discrepancies was itself troubling. Rather than initiating a formal internal-affairs investigation, Police Chief Tom Hood in May 1998 decided to conduct a less formal administrative review of St. Amand's actions. For several reasons that decision was critical. An internal-affairs investigation would have been more thorough and would have generated numerous reports regarding St. Amand's conduct. Sworn statements would have been taken from the victims, as well as St. Amand's colleagues and superiors in the domestic-violence unit. By handling the matter as an administrative review, Chief Hood was able to limit the amount of damaging information gathered about St. Amand and his work unit.

Commander McCue, St. Amand's supervisor and the person responsible for overseeing the administrative review, acknowledged in an interview earlier this month that she made a decision not to put her findings in writing; her reports were delivered to the chief verbally.

Also had the department conducted an internal-affairs investigation, it is likely the matter would have been reviewed earlier by the State Attorney's Office, which routinely examines completed internal-affairs cases.

Following McCue's administrative review, Chief Hood issued a written reprimand of St. Amand on June 9, 1998. The reprimand states that "the employee is inefficient in the performance of his assigned tasks or duties, to wit: employee repeatedly failed to complete work accurately and in a timely manner."

None of the information surrounding St. Amand's failure to contact victims was included in the reprimand or placed in his personnel file. He was neither suspended nor fined; in fact he was allowed to remain a detective in the domestic-violence unit.

Last week Julia Dawson, president of the North Miami chapter of the National Organization for Women, wrote a letter to the city manager. She said she was "extremely concerned" about the city's unwillingness to deal with St. Amand more decisively, and she noted that domestic-violence cases are highly sensitive. "Only specially trained individuals with the highest level of professionalism should be entrusted with this work," she wrote. "In this case it is appalling to find out that even after receiving a written reprimand for failing to properly pursue domestic-violence cases assigned to him, Detective St. Amand was still allowed to continue working in that area. That fact alone made public will undoubtedly impact the public's trust in the North Miami Police Department's judgment and ability to properly address domestic violence and sexual-assault cases."

Chief Hood will not discuss why he felt only a reprimand was warranted or why he allowed St. Amand to remain in the domestic-violence unit. And because there is no written documentation of the department's administrative review, it remains unclear whether an exhaustive examination of all cases assigned to St. Amand was undertaken to determine if there were other victims he failed to contact.

North Miami City Manager Lee Feldman says he was not involved in the decision to reprimand St. Amand. Determining how to discipline police officers, he asserts, is Chief Hood's responsibility. "If the chief felt a reprimand was warranted, then I would back him on that," Feldman says.

Interviews with city officials and police officers suggest that a number of factors may have influenced Chief Hood's approach to dealing with St. Amand. First, the informal nature of an administrative review may have shielded the department from scandal. Hood also may have felt a measure of loyalty to St. Amand, who in January 1998 helped secure the release of four children who were being held hostage. That incident ended in a shootout that left one of the kidnappers dead. The chief may have believed the stress from the event adversely affected St. Amand's later performance.

Another possible concern for the chief: In recent years his department has been rife with allegations of racial discrimination. Disciplining St. Amand more severely might have exacerbated the problem. Last year, for instance, seven black police officers (St. Amand was not among them) filed a complaint against the department with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In addition it is no secret that St. Amand comes from a wealthy and politically influential South Florida Haitian family. Suspending or firing him could have sparked turmoil within North Miami's growing Haitian community. (St. Amand's father, Fred St. Amand, Sr., claims that the allegations against his son are politically motivated. The elder St. Amand, who says he plans to run for a seat on the North Miami City Council in two years, believes city officials are trying to ruin his candidacy by embarrassing his family and destroying his son's reputation.)

If the reprimand was intended to serve as a warning to St. Amand that his conduct was being scrutinized, it didn't work. In August 1998, two months after receiving the rebuke, he allegedly began exposing himself and masturbating in front of one of his co-workers. The woman says she tried to ignore the detective, who would make lewd comments to her while he masturbated. She says she was afraid to report the incidents because she didn't believe the department would support her. Only after confiding in another officer, who encouraged her to report the incidents, did she speak with the State Attorney's Office this past May.

"I believed her," says Assistant State Attorney Ruth Solley, referring to the victim. The prosecutor adds that the four other women who complained of sexual harassment were also very credible.

It was during the course of investigating the sexual-harassment allegations that prosecutors first discovered the discrepancies in St. Amand's handling of domestic-violence cases. Solley declined to comment on that ongoing phase of the investigation.

In response to the stinging memo from the State Attorney's Office describing St. Amand as a threat to the women around him, the police department has begun a formal internal-affairs investigation into the charges of sexual harassment leveled by the five women included in the State Attorney's report.

Although the department was aware two months ago of the complaints against St. Amand and the fact that the State Attorney's Office was investigating them, the detective was relieved of duty (with pay) only after this column detailed those charges three weeks ago. All of which leaves Julia Dawson, of the National Organization for Women, with just one question for city officials: "North Miami NOW would like to know why, considering his record, Detective St. Amand should remain working in law enforcement?"


Related Story "There's Something About Fred," Jim DeFede, July 8

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